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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 15:30 GMT
Row over special needs 'closures'
Writing
Tories say parents are being denied choice
Children with special needs are being forced into mainstream education because special schools are being closed, it has been claimed.

The Conservatives said 33 special schools had shut since 1997 and called for a halt to the policy.

The party said there should be a choice between mainstream and special schools.

But the Scottish Executive disputed the figures and said favouring mainstream schools meant special needs children could be with their friends.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Tory education spokesman Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said special schools made an invaluable contribution to many children with the most complex learning needs.

Not all children will receive as good a deal in a mainstream setting
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Tory education spokesman

But he said: "There is a very real danger that the Scottish Executive's policy of a presumption towards mainstream education will mean that some children with more complex additional support needs will not have the same level of resources allocated to them.

"Not all children will receive as good a deal in a mainstream setting."

He urged a moratorium on closures and called for the mainstreaming policy to be reviewed to establish choice for parents.

But Deputy Education Minister Robert Brown disputed the Tory figures, saying that 57 new publicly-funded special schools and stand-alone units had opened since 1997 either on their own or attached to mainstream schools.

Parents of children with special educational needs were having to fight for their children's right to be educated alongside their friends
Robert Brown
Deputy Education Minister

Over the same period, he said, 29 such schools had closed, resulting in an overall addition of 28 special schools or stand-alone units.

Mr Brown insisted the executive was not "obsessed" with pushing children into mainstream education.

The minister said: "The goal is to fit the provision to the child, not the child to the provision."

On the presumption in favour of mainstream education he added: "The reason (it) was introduced was that many parents of children with special educational needs were having to fight for their children's right to be educated alongside their friends, in a school near their home."

SNP MSP Adam Ingram called for a review to be carried out to discover what additional support was needed to ensure that every youngster with special needs could fulfil their potential - whether in a mainstream or a special school.

Scottish Socialist MSP Rosemary Byrne claimed there was a lack of resources and said it often took too long for schools to adapt their buildings for the needs of disabled youngsters.




SEE ALSO:
Concerns over support in schools
03 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Special needs policy criticised
21 Aug 05 |  Scotland
Tory promise on special schools
07 Mar 05 |  Scotland
Special schools or inclusion?
11 Feb 04 |  Education


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